A new Internet-based radio station could generate more than $500,000 a year for the Houston Independent School District.
K12RadioHouston is expected to launch in July as the first streaming station for a public school system. HISD and a media company plan to split the profits, which are estimated to reach $1 million in the first year. “You don’t need a transmitter. You don’t need a tower,” said Pat Fant, co-founder of RFC Media. “There’s not a public school district in the county that has its own full-time Internet radio station.”
Listeners will tune in through the HISD Web site, a link in the KHOU (Channel 11) site or via an iPhone application. While the station will be professionally run, students will have a role in producing content. Music will dominate the waves, but school performances, athletic events and news announcements will also be broadcast. Formatting and commercials will target families of the district’s 202,000 students and 30,000 employees.
“We are a demographic in our own right,” said Lee Vela, HISD’s chief district relations officer. One-year agreement HISD signed a one-year contract with RFC. The agreement comes with no cost to the district, which will pocket 50 percent of the proceeds. While it’s an innovative revenue stream, some worry that the profit-sharing model could make children the aim of marketing at school. So far, there’s no policy on whether the station will be played on buses or on campuses. “We have to be really careful,” said HISD board member Anna Eastman, the mother of three children. “Revenue for the district is important, but we shouldn’t sacrifice those principles that are best for children.” The district also voted in January to join the ranks of schools nationally that sell advertisements on the outside of school buses. And students at about 8,000 secondary schools around the country, including several in the Houston area, watch Channel One on a regular basis, which features advertising and short newscasts targeted at teens in their classrooms.
HISD officials said they will screen ads slated to appear on both buses and the radio station, and will forbid promotions of items banned on campuses, including tobacco, alcohol and certain junk food. Experts said it’s not unusual for companies to disguise a money-making mechanism as a public service to school districts that are desperate to make ends meet. Parents need to remain alert to protect their children from being bombarded with advertisements, said Josh Golin, associate director at Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood “You need to be careful anytime your revenue as a school depends on advertising,” he said. “That’s not really the role of a school, to be involved in delivering kids to advertisers.” Houston ISD officials said many of the logistics remain to be worked out, including how the revenue will be spent. Some of the money may be reinvested in marketing HISD schools, Vela said. But with just five minutes of advertising per hour, Fant said the radio station will be considered a low-commercial environment.
“This is a direct way to speak to Houston families,” Fant said. “You’re talking about being relevant to about 1 million people.”